The biggest challenge any society faces today is how to keep its seniors productive and engaged, hoping to utilize their knowledge, expertise and experience while they still can work and contribute. This is especially true of economies such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and several other developed nations where rates of birth have been on the decline for decades.
The key factor in ensuring that the seniors continue to work (at least part time) and contribute to society, is achieving a competitively priced (I would argue low cost) healthcare. The proportion of budget allocation for healthcare is on the increase in developed countries, but it is still lower than the budget allocation for national security/defence. A big share of the healthcare allocation should go towards the older generation, as they have worked hard in building the society to where it is today, and it should be any government’s priority to fund their healthcare costs.
Good healthcare provision need not necessarily be very expensive, as often portrayed in the media. Private healthcare has become purely a for-profit business and is often associated with high cost since it purportedly offers higher quality as compared to public hospitals. Not so, in my opinion. I have seen good quality healthcare of comparable levels, in both private and public hospitals, at least in Singapore. The impression that people have is that private hospitals should be providing high quality due to better resources, doctors and equipment – this is not necessarily true. Most of us operate on referrals from friends. Even general practitioners are puzzled if you tell them you prefer a public hospital, as they know you could avail of private healthcare either due to corporate coverage or your own personal private insurance coverage. Why not spend more money, if you can knowing that it does not come from your pocket?
However, if the “greed” factor can be managed appropriately, there is a distinct possibility that private healthcare providers can provide decent quality at reasonable or fair prices, though higher than public healthcare costs. There are good examples of private healthcare providers who are viewed as reasonable in almost all developed countries.
In my opinion, the issue on the table is two-fold: reasonable healthcare coverage for all citizens (like what Singapore provides) via an insurance scheme tied to provident fund, and the willingness of private providers to fall in line with market demands, rather than stay isolated with an exalted brand image associated with very high costs.
For seniors, the challenge of healthcare is multi-faceted: apart from health ailments often associated with advancing age, they also have to contend with lack of a sense of well-being and potential isolation from society. Folks who have just turned 58 have a long possibility of continued contribution to society in many, many ways. How can they deliver on that promise, and how can a government encourage them to do so in a very proactive manner?
Providing healthcare on demand is the key. Seniors should get priority in accessing healthcare at a lower cost, which would strongly encourage them to continue serving the society which is taking care of their needs. People in Western societies continue to work well past 65, and age discrimination has not stopped them from operating in service industries wherein unemployement is rather low. Similarly, at the high end of the wage spectrum, there is a strong need for mature guidance from senior executives who have left active corporate jobs.
The other big issue with seniors is the emergence of previously unheard of diseases which affect their functionality, such as dementia and Parkinsons’ – these can be avoided or delayed by continued active work engagement which instils a strong sense of purpose. Helping younger generation and mentoring them are strong reasons why older folks would like to continue serving, albeit at lower time commitments.
So, in an overall sense, the healthcare challenge is looming large for seniors in all societies, and they can help themselves by continuing their engagement from where they left off, while trying to ensure that they keep well from a healthcare perspective. Keeping fit is not an easy task for any age group. It assumes big importance for the older generation due to various ailments which could be kept at bay by an appropriate fitness regimen and addressing healthcare issues in a timely manner. Governments should support the seniors aggressively, especially the ones just leaving their jobs for good. Both physical and mental health issues need to be addressed in this effort.
The return on investment from such efforts will add significantly to the GDP growth rate. Smaller countries will benefit more and faster due to efficiency of policy executions.
It is critical to bring the healthcare providers in line with society’s expectations, instead of letting them run riot – healthcare is not a “normal” or “regular” business. This also applies to pharmaceutical companies and other innumerable support providers in the healthcare industry. We have seen egregious examples of super greed by pharma companies in the U.S. which are rather very bad examples of how such companies try to extort unhealthy profits from consumers, insurance companies and hospitals.
In a nutshell, seniors can be productive for economies to grow, and they are asking for better quality healthcare at lower costs. Societies need to support them.
Have a great week ahead,
17th March 2019